All of us need to be very concerned about the actions of the Harper Conservative government since it won a majority of seats in the last federal election.
In past decades, Canada has built up a fragile network of institutional arrangements that support and nurture the development of knowledge and resources that are required as a basis for informed discussion and debate about how best to manage and enrich the legacy we have inherited from previous generations.
It seems that the Harper government is now intent on obliterating these institutional arrangements and stopping debate through measures intended to suppress all information vital to a free and democratic society. A partial list of such measures includes:
• Cuts to Library and Archives Canada and the Elimination of the National Archival Development Program. This particular issue has received extensive coverage in the Brandon Sun ( through an article on a local protest, an editorial, and a letter from former university archivist, Tom Mitchell);
• Direct interference in the programs of Statistics Canada, that included in 2010 an order to end the compulsory long-form census (a vital source of data for research on many important social and economic issues). Recent cuts to its current budget that have resulted in the elimination of the important journal Perspectives on Labour and Income, and other useful publications;
• Elimination of the National Council of Welfare, a federal agency that generated reports on a host of issues such as child poverty, the situation of people of limited incomes, and the justice system. These reports were used to monitor the effectiveness of many social programs and develop ideas on how to improve them;
• Changes to the environmental assessment rules to reduce public input in the evaluation of significant development projects that could have far-reaching environmental and development implications. These changes were made for the specific purpose of blocking public input and accelerating approval of pipeline projects favoured by the government; and
• Initiation of a campaign to identify non-profit organizations critical of the government for the purpose of potentially removing their charitable status and ability to issue tax receipts. What the government is saying in effect is that, if you are not critical of the government, you’re all right; if you are critical, watch out.
This government apparently believes that its obsession with silencing debate and stifling dissent will serve its interests. It may serve Conservative interests, in the short run. But it will also do immense damage to free speech and democratic practices, and the very fabric of Canadian society.
Fortunately, most people oppose Conservative efforts to entrench a “suck-up-kick-down society” in Canada and will turf them next election. In the meantime, however, all of us have an obligation to do what we can to frustrate these efforts to gut Canadian institutions and destroy our democratic traditions and values.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 27, 2012